Understanding HIV And AIDS
“Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome” – or AIDS for short, is one of the most serious, deadly diseases in human history. More than 20 years ago, doctors in the United States identified the first cases of AIDS in San Francisco and New York. A number of gay men in New York and San Francisco suddenly began to develop rare opportunistic infections and cancers that seemed stubbornly resistant to any treatment. Doctors soon discovered similarities to all these cases – the men were lacking a specific type of white blood cell that is essential to a healthy immune system. This immune deficiency explained why they are vulnerable to disease.
Why Is HIV Dangerous?
As mentioned earlier, HIV attacks the immune system itself, particularly special type of immune system cell known as a CD4 lymphocyte. HIV has a number of tricks that help it to evade the body’s defenses, including very rapid mutation, which means that once HIV has taken hold, the immune system can never fully get rid of it.
You can never tell by just looking at someone if he or she is infected by HIV. A person infected with HIV may look and feel perfectly well for many years and may not know that they are infected. But when the person’s immune system becomes weak, they will become more vulnerable to illnesses, many of which they would previously have fought off easily.
The only reliable way to tell whether someone has HIV is via a blood test, which can detect infection from a few weeks after the virus first entered the body.
What Is AIDS?
Without any treatments, HIV infection usually progresses to AIDS in an average of ten years. But for someone who is malnourished, they may progress to AIDS and death more rapidly.
As the medical industry learns more about how HIV works, they’ve been able to develop drugs to interfere with its growth. What they have successfully done is slowing the progress of this disease, hence people living with AIDS can now live much longer. But there is still no cure for HIV and AIDS.
How Is AIDS Transmitted?
HIV can be transmitted from an infected person to another person through blood, semen (the fluid released from the penis when a male ejaculates), vaginal fluids and breast milk. The virus is spread through high-risk behaviors including:
- Unprotected oral, vaginal, or anal sexual intercourse (please always use a condom).
- Sharing of needles – needles for drugs, for injecting steroids, and for tattooing.
- People who have another sexually transmitted disease.
- A pregnant HIV woman – her newborn baby can catch the virus from her before birth, during the birthing process, or from breastfeeding. It is advisable that all women be tested for HIV so they can begin treatment if necessary.
The Differences Between HIV And AIDS
Many people don’t really know the differences between HIV and AIDS. Let’s get it straight once and for all.
- HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. AIDS is the name given for a variety of disease manifestations caused by HIV infection.
- HIV is a lentivirus, and like all viruses of this type, it attacks the immune system. Lentiviruses are in turn part of a larger group of viruses known as retroviruses. The name ‘lentivirus’ literally means ‘slow virus’ because they take such a long time to produce any adverse effects in the body.
- If you have the virus it slowly begins to attack your immune system, killing off healthy immune system cells. The deterioration and destruction of immune function leads to AIDS.
- AIDS is the final stage of the HIV infection.
- AIDS does not occur without HIV.
- HIV infection is the only factor that predicts who will develop AIDS.
Treatment Methods For AIDS
In order for HIV treatment to be effective for a long time, it has been found that you need to take more than one medicines at a time. This is what is known as combination therapy or Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART).
The groups of medicines/ antiretroviral drugs (ARV)
There are 3 main groups of drugs; each of these groups attacks HIV in a different way:
- Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTI)
- Non-Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NNRTI)
- Protease Inhibitors
This is a brief explanation on how they work:
NRTI acts like a broken building blocks so that the HIV virus that multiplies in your T-cells is built on broken blocks – it makes it weaker.
NNRTI gives wrong instructions to HIV and confuses the building process, so their building is weak and easily collapsed.
Protease Inhibitors are like workers putting defective parts in each new virus being built, again making the HIV weak.
How To Spot Fake AIDS Cures And Treatments
As already stated, there is no proven cure for AIDS. For those who find themselves tempted, here area few pointers for spotting quack therapies.
Who makes the claims? – Find out their credentials, their source of qualifications, etc.
What claims do they make? – Reputable scientists and doctors don’t use sensational terms such as “miracle breakthrough: Also watch for evidence of poor scientific understanding; for example, no expert would refer to HIV as “the HIV virus’ or “the AIDS virus”
What’s in the ‘cure’? – Many inventors won’t reveal what goes into their so-called cures. It is important to remember that words like “natural” and “herbal” are no guarantee of safety.
What evidence do they offer? – Virtually all promoters of ‘AIDS cures” cannot provide any data from large-scale, randomized human trials. Instead they rely on anecdotes, personal testimonies, laboratory experiments or small-scale trials with no placebo comparison. This type of evidence is always unreliable.
Beware of conspiracy theorists – Many sellers of fake medicines fall back on conspiracy theories to explain why their products haven’t undergone proper testing. They say that government agencies and the medical profession seek to suppress alternative treatments to safeguard the profits of the pharmaceutical industry. This type of bizarre allegation is a sure sign of a charlatan. In reality, leading scientists investigate all kinds of therapies that can’t be patented.
Do some research – Any important medical breakthrough will be reported in peer-reviewed journals such as Nature, Science or The Lancet. The mainstream media will pick up the story and leading experts will express their opinions.
Consult an expert – Always talk to a doctor or other health professional before trying any medical treatment. If you need more information or a second opinion, try contacting a reputable health organisation or telephone helpline.